help: drunk lesbian hook ups

I’m looking for insight from ya’ll.

In my job, I’m actually what’s known in the health education biz as “a generalist,” meaning I’m all things too all people, equal parts sex educator, alcohol educator, sleep, stress, mental health, physical activity educator… everything. It’s an important job that I take very seriously and do, if I may say so myself, extremely well. I certainly try hard, at any rate.

The sex stuff is my favorite part of course, and handily it intersects with just about all the other things, rather in the way that salt brings out the flavor of other foods, or the way alcohol gives the tongue access to flavors insoluble in water or fat. Understanding the role of sex in the other health issues is the sugar that makes the medicine palatable to students.

Lately I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about alcohol – a serious health issue among college students, not least for its impact on sexual decision-making. Nationally, something like 16% of college women report having unprotected sex as a result of their own drinking.

Having chatted about that number with some students and other folks, one of the things I’m learning is how entrenched, indeed how FUNDAMENTAL is the role of alcohol in the hook up culture of the gay and lesbian community. You get drunk, you hook up. You may get drunk without hooking up, but you don’t hook up without getting drunk.

Now, wearing my alcohol educator hat, I think, “Well that’s fine, all I need is to motivate people not to drink to blackout, which is reasonably easy, since most people would rather not blackout if they can help it.”

But wearing my sex nerd hat, I think, “What? Why? What?!”

This one student I talked to (who may or may not read the blog – if you do, hi and thanks!) helped me understand. See, I had previously assumed that people were drinking a lot because they felt guilty about the sex, ashamed of their bodies, or otherwise somehow NEGATIVE about the pursuit of a sexual connection. The non-straight community is at increased risk for a wide variety of health issues, including mood and anxiety problems, self-harm and suicidality, tobacco use, dangerous drinking, etc etc, and the typical story is that people abuse substances in order to manage negative affect. They’re drinking, I thought, to turn down the volume on the bad feelings.

But no, it turns out it’s not that. It’s just… the culture. It’s just how you do things. It’s accepted as normal – long term relationships even start that way. Personally I can’t imagine having the FIRST sex I have with someone happen when we’re both shitfaced drunk, but apparently it’s more or less the norm in this particular culture.

And there’s certainly the question of whether it’s more the case in the gay community than in the straight community, where random hookups, at least among college students, are culturally normal.

So look, obviously I haven’t talked to every gay or lesbian person in America and obviously I haven’t read ALL the research on the subject, but this is a compelling empirical question as well as an important health issue:

IS it the case that in the LGBQ community, drunken hooking up a big trend?

If it is, WHY is it?

What are the benefits?

How is drunken hooking up in the gay community different from or the same as drunken hooking up in the straight community?

What are the costs or risks, both at the individual and cultural levels? Should it be changed?

If so, how?

I’m really asking, because I’m finding it difficult to get inside the experience of having sex with a new person while wasted; I’m sure it makes sense to many of the people who do it, I just can’t see it and I’m not even sure what’s blocking my view.

Tell me everything you can think of. Send your friends this blog post and ask them to comment. I need all the insight I can get.

33 responses to “help: drunk lesbian hook ups

  1. Thoughts from a 20 year-old queer with a history of drunk hookups:

    >If you’re hooking up with someone you just met and you’re a *queer 20-something, odds are you met the new person in an environment where you were both already drunk–a gay club, a party, etc.
    >Relatively young, relatively sexually-inexperienced people, both gay and straight, may use alcohol to reduce nervousness and performance anxiety with a new partner.
    >Drunken hookups seem (to my eyes) to be the norm in college culture as a whole, regardless of sexual orientation.
    >Benefits: Lackluster first time sex with a new partner can be excused by drunkenness, inhibitions about approaching someone for and engaging with someone in sexy funtimes are lowered
    >Worries me because: Young *queers probably shouldn’t associate getting laid with alcohol quite so much…

  2. I think this is the norm in the youth/college culture in general, not just the queer one… I see this at ALL colleges, not just ones with a large queer community.

  3. What Julia said. Aren’t drunk hookups the norm for all?

  4. I’m presently genderqueer, bisexual, and mostly paratrexual (, that is, a (MtoF) trans-admirer. At my first hetero-sex (at 32–no apologies, just high standards), I was sober. At my first trans-hookup (much better, really), the strongest drug she had was Viagra. The only “drugs” I care about are Arizona RX and Horny Goat Weed/Yohimbe. Maybe mild good-quality Ecsatsy and Viagra when I’m rich. Depressants (pot, alcohol) make me sleepy as I am narcoleptic.

  5. Some years ago an Italian gentleman told me, “Alcohol and sex never mix well”. I’ve come to understand the truth in that sadly too late.

  6. I work in college health as well and also struggle with the acceptance of drunken hook-ups as the norm, no matter how the student identifies. Students walk in the door as freshman with a culturally-ingrained notion that “that’s what college is for”; this does seem to get ramped up in the queer community because of the historical association of gay social culture with bars/alcohol and the notion that it’s all about indiscriminate sex.

    So what to do about it? As soon as I figure it out, I’m selling the idea and retiring to a warm beach somewhere on the proceeds. But in the meantime, I continue to see students year after year repeat the same patterns which no amount of evidence-based education will put a dent in.

    Which tells me the cultural scripts learned through high school are so powerful, until we change things in families, schools, etc. from age 0-18, not much will change on campus.

    But that will require a MASSIVE cultural shift tantamount to moving tectonic plates with a crowbar.

    Sigh. That didn’t help much, did it?

  7. On a campus where there aren’t a whole lot of (queer) people you drink before hooking up because the place you meet queer people is a drinking party… it’s just where the people are. Picking someone up in class or on the quad or whatever is much harder (also is she going to be angry that a woman is making a pass at her? Safer to be at a queer party first). It’s easier to get a bunch of people together for drinking than for knitting or whatever, and it’s getting a bunch of people together that lets people find other people to hook up with. That’s what I remember from my own college experience (a few years ago).

  8. Its my opinion that People are wimps, nobody knows how to be themselves. Suppressing and inhibiting what you want (also having limited choices in your own development) is learned early and has everything to do with the industrial educational complex that most of us are steeped in. Who wants to be sitting at a desk at 8am?! No One. but all us have been doing it. It doesn’t matter what your gender or sexuality is -mixing alcohol with a new person hook up is a norm for the majority. Queers have their reasons for behaving that way and their reasons are a bit more dynamic than your average hetero / cis gendered. The bottom line is everyone is using alcohol/drugs to over ride all the inhibitions they’ve learned from an early age. Change the class size to a maximum of 10. Buy teachers Not weapons. As individuals- if we were allowed to choose where our tax dollars went everything would change. But the problem is everyone is a wimp-we will never stop showing up for class at 8am.

  9. I would echo what previous commenters have said – first time hook-ups are frequently drunken experiences, regardless of who’s doing the hooking up. Out of around 40ish partners of both sexes, I can’t immediately remember any with whom I had initial sober sex. The alcohol takes down the boundaries, and glosses over the embarrassment.

    Nowadays, I like to think I would be more confident, more direct, but I’m settled so it’s a moot point. I still struggle with sober sex though. I’m always on the outside of my own head, laughing at how silly it is. A few glasses of wine take away the complicated layers and leave me to enjoy the fun. I suspect that’s a common theme regardless of the background or sexual preference of the person.

  10. 40/Het/male/black/Caribbean. Never had a drunken hookup, and I don’t feel that I’m missing out.

  11. That would be 40 years old, in my case. :-)

  12. taoistpoetbutterfly

    Nth-ing the bar culture response.

    I’m 43, which makes me fortunately of the last generation for whom it was true that gay bars were *the* only place to meet other queer folk, but that culture is going to take longer to change. For most young people, their first information on where to meet others still comes from straight people (You can’t ask people you haven’t met yet, after all.). And if you ask straight people where the gay people are, once you’ve discarded the useless answers, you’ll get about 5% “At an Indigo Girls concert, ha ha,” and about 95% “At a gay bar.” Throw in extreme nervousness and probably some self-doubt too, and the heavy drinking is going to happen.

  13. Usually if you’re meeting other LGBTQ people to hook up, it’s in LGBTQ spaces. Thoses spaces are usually gay bars or gay parties. You might meet someone through the LGBTQ center but since those groups are usually relatively small people are very careful about hook ups within that group. If you hookup while drunk it’s just a “bad decision” that you can both laugh off and move on from without exiling yourself from one of the few LGBTQ spaces you have. 
    Another factor that plays in is the general sense of “this is how it’s done”. It’s almost like a signal that you’re both interested in hooking up. 
    It’s also worth mentioning that most of the LGBTQ folk I know drink, etc. far more often then my straight friends and are just more likely to be under the influence when they meet people. 
    As for risks, I have yet to meet a woman who uses protection while having sex. Most practice some sort of risk management, i.e. No oral with strangers/people with multiple partners. I think most people are less careful about such things while under the influence but safe lesbian sex just isn’t done. 
    I also can say that for me there’s a lot of nervousness about having sex with another woman. Straight sex seems pretty simple. The men I dated and hung out with made it pretty clear that if you had boobs and a vagina you didn’t have to worry about getting a guy off.  Lesbian sex is almost undefinable and requires a certain level of skill beyond having lady bits. And that’s nervous-making. 
    I can’t speak for the gay male community but I think that the huge overlap between lesbians/bi women and feminists means that most drunken hook ups are consensual, if sometimes ill advised. So I wouldn’t say it’s really a problem except in the sense that the high rates of substance abuse in LGBTQ individuals is a huge issue. 

    I queried my gay (male) roommate and he said that drunken hook ups are more of a coincidence. They’d hook up if they were sober–but they usually aren’t. Which brings up the issue of LGBTQ substance abuse again. 

  14. I’m not going to argue that my experience is in the normal range, for queer or straight culture. With that proviso, my partner and I met each other as fellow students and colleagues, and got to know each other without a great deal of drink. The odd bottle of wine, maybe, but no bars, etc., and our sexual relationship has never been dependent on being even tipsy, let alone really drunk.

    I feel like it might be a mistake to say drinking is a part of the queer culture distinct from straight culture. That might have been true 20-30-50 years ago, when gay bars were way more central to connecting to the queer community. But I think that’s way less of a truism now. I think it might be more useful to think about what other population markers intersect with drinking+sex (youth? college? urban settings? income? etc.).

    That’s just my two cents.

  15. Ditto the comments about hookups happening drunkenly because that’s where you’re meeting up with people. Speaking for myself, few hookups in college were 100% sober, just because so many of them happened in connection with parties, and parties involved drinking. However, I did go on more Official Dates with guys than I did with women (pre-relationship dates, that is); proportionally, that increased the substance-free hookup # slightly.

    Why were there fewer Official Dates with women? Part is definitely due to the fact that it’s ‘safer’ to ask the random guy at the bookstore out – he’s statistically more likely to be into women than the woman standing to his left. Another is definitely the ‘dating within small groups’ weirdness: if you’re going from a friendship to something more and a party hookup fizzles, it feels easier to blow it off and move on the next day, as opposed to when an Official Date tanks. Finally, having your tipsy flirtations rejected is easier than having your Official Date Request rejected.

  16. I want to quibble in particular with your statement that hook-ups don’t happen without getting drunk. They most certainly do. Indeed, based on my college experience I’d be willing to bet that the non-drunk hook-up is a more significant feature of the typically more liberated queers than the straights. Let’s not forget that hook-ups are not fundamentally dangerous or bad, they certainly can be carried out in unsafe manners, but much of the negativity around hooking-up comes not from logic but the annoying holdovers of Victorianism still running rampant in our society.

  17. To rehash what has already been said, once again…

    Even in large cities, queer communities tend to be quite insular. Add politics/lifestyle into the mix, and it can often feel like every available and like-minded queer you know in the city is already solidly in the “just friends” zone, or has dated/is dating one of your friends.

    So, when assessing potential hookups, you’ve often got two options: 1) Making a move on a friend or 2) Making a move on a stranger. Option 1 is terrifying, for fear of rejection, and Option 2 is less terrifying (nothing to lose), but arguably much more challenging and less likely to be rewarding.

    But you know where the perfect place to accomplish either of those options is? A dance party. Because queers know how to throw dance parties, because the chance of being rejected by a stranger/acquaintance on the basis of them being straight is way lower, because you might actually meet someone outside of your immediate social circle, and because it’s way easier to kiss a friend you’re feeling chemistry with on the dancefloor than over a coffee table.

    But – as much as I love the dance party culture, I wish it wasn’t tied so closely to drinking culture. As I get more and more passionate about enthusiastic consent, I get less comfortable with the idea of drunken hookups – an incident last year involving spectacular amounts of alcohol and a girl who, unbeknownst to me at the time, had a (monogamous, I assume) girlfriend, really drove the point home. She consistently initiated things, but she almost certainly wouldn’t have if she were sober, and we were both too far gone to recognize the fact that our ability to consent was impaired. Also, I am far less confident in my ability to properly listen to a partner when I’m drunk. So while I’m definitely not in the “just say no to drunk sex” camp, I am much more cautious about it than I used to be. Making out on the dance floor? Great. If we exchange numbers? Even better. But not so much with the drunk sex.

  18. I don’t have much to add about drunken hook-up culture except to second what other people have said–I don’t think it’s *more* a feature of lesbian life than straight life, I just think it’s part of how a lot of American kids negotiate late adolescence. I’m 40 and I know that colleges have more drinking now than they did 20 years ago, but my impression is that this is affecting young people of all sexual persuasions. When I was in college, lesbians did, in fact, seem somewhat less likely to drink than straight people unless there was a rugby team event involved–but the same women who drank like pirates with the team were pretty moderate in other settings.

    But I do want to say, about the Official Date not being so much a part of lesbian culture: that’s absolutely true. Instead, the UNofficial Date, or Stealth Date, is a huge part of lesbian courtship. It’s the flip side of “every pre-arranged encounter between unmarried heteros of the opposite sex is assumed to be a date.” Almost nothing in lesbian culture counts as an Official Date because until the sexual tension tips over into necking, you’re still just friends: short of restaurant reservations for dinner or one person buying both of the tickets for the Indigo Girl/Ani DiFranco/Tegan and Sara/Brandi Carlile concert, it’s officially just hanging out as friends. You operate under the cover of deniability until one or the other of you can’t stand it anymore and makes a move. Alcohol may or may not be involved, but if it is, it doesn’t need to rise to the level of drunkenness at that stage of the game.

    (I courted my now-wife-of-nine-years by starting an activist group with her. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one out there.)

  19. Here’s my answer with my experience.

    As a queer youth it was always difficult to get together with anyone. There are very few out lesbians in high school, at least where i lived. In order to be close to someone sometimes the only thing that made hooking up easier to pursuit and in return made girls who wouldnt soberly give it a shot let out there inhibitions, was to get smashed. So its a learned behavior. Survival strategy. At a young age it was the easiest way to get close to a girl without them feeling like it was a mistake on their part. That “they were drunk so it didnt matter” as opposed to “oh my god why did i do that? im not gay…” that happens more easily when one is sober.

    This is just one factor. But really, getting drunk, like even in straight youth, gives a person the excuse to say “ok im drunk so its ok to makeout with this person, have sex with this person.” When your drunk you can “Blame it on the alcohol…”

    Another thing could be that queer people start “dating” later in life than straight people. They dont get that middle school learning time. Or at least i didnt and many others i know didnt because it wasnt accepted. (Hopefully that is changing.) So in order for it not to feel so awkward or to help the person forget that they dont know what thye are doing they drink to just be able to let loose. And/or its just that finally they can have fun to do what they have wanted to do for so long and the easiest way to start it is with alcohol.

    Thats what i got.

  20. I have come to see drunken lesbian hookups as the new coffee date, not committed enough to make any exit difficult, but definitive enough to have a story afterwards or a chance at something more blossoming.

    Alchohol gives Smith’s lesbian community a scapegoat for their behaviors, if you meet someone and then get drunk and hook up then if you decide the next morning (or your peer group decides for you) that this person you had sex with was undesirable you can just say “oops, I was drunk.” and everyone will nod with understanding and it will become a “good story” later on. Alcohol seems to be a way to celebrate sexual conquests without being held accountable for ones sexual activity in regards to safety or emotions.

    And I do not think that you are off about the shame either, although yes, drinking is a part of the lesbian culture I would say that shame is even more so, and the alcohol is a way for us to pardon our shame and mask our insecurities. Drinking at Smith pardons much more than hookups, it pardons any sort of awkward or tactless behavior, making it hilarious the morning after. Why this is I have no idea.

    ps- lets include this in bystander training this year.

  21. I find this interesting, because a lot of people are treating the “drunken hook up” like either an epidemic or a new thing. It’s neither.

    Until about 200 years ago, just about everyone in Western Europe and its cultural colonies began every day with a big glass of beer for breakfast, and largely continued drinking low-levels of alcohol all day long. Regional variations including wine and spirits into this tradition were ubiquitous. That meant that during the rise of the West, the vast majority of the working class and nobility were, in fact, pleasantly drunk all the time. It wasn’t until the switch from beer to coffee and tea, about 1850 or so, that this began to change.

    The fact is, alcohol and sex have been paired together since the first shaman discovered the first naturally-fermented honey wines in prehistory. Alcohol was a primitive “wonder drug”, killing microorganizms and purifying drinking water, as well as allowing alcohol-only soluble chemicals to be extracted from plants. The result produced everything from mead to soma, and the attendant connection between alcohol and sex has been there ever since.

    Alcohol lowers inhibitions. It encourages us to break out of the heavily-maintained social personas we construct to survive, which is necessary to take the risk of rejection implicit in inviting another person to share our bed. It allows us to get past petty insecurities and low self-esteem and take chances our sober minds would never permit. It allows us to extend our emotional range beyond the narrow confines of day-to-day life and connect with a more primal mode of thought, the type necessary to drive us to reproduce (or at least tear one off with a semi-attractive stranger).

    Note that cultures where there is strict prohibition of alcohol also have a much higher degree of sexual oppression in general, and rely largely on arranged marriages to facilitate mating. And while it’s arguable that cultures where alcohol is more available have a higher incidence of sexual crimes and violence, in general the good that comes from our ability to relax enough over cocktails to forget about unsightly tummy bulges or potential “shortcummings” in our trousers far outweighs the nervous anxiety an utterly sober mating ritual would entail.

    What I think the detractors of drunken hook-ups are trying to do is protect young, dumb college students of all genders from “making mistakes” and having bad sex. The fact of the matter is that bad sex is as much a part of adult life as tax returns and social consciousness — we learn from those mistakes and mature as individuals for having made them. That’s no excuse for blatant stupidity or criminal behavior, of course, but a barely-remembered drunken hook-up? That’s as much an American rite-of-passage to adulthood as the pilgrimage to Vegas.

    • The fact of the matter is that bad sex is as much a part of adult life as tax returns and social consciousness

      It is?

      Clearly I’m doing it wrong.

      And technically a barely remembered hook up is a crime – sexual assault or rape, depending on what happened. When you’re that drunk you can’t give consent.

  22. Since I think everyone else has covered the basics I’m going to try and apply some of the things I’ve learned from you, Emily, to some of the things I noticed when I was a bartender in a (straight, southern, 70′s-era) university-district beer bar.

    First off there’s a theory (I think it actually came out in the 1970s) that alcohol “boosts” testosterone in women by inhibiting its breakdown. Or something. The idea being that testosterone lowers SES and makes women “horny like men.”

    Except I still haven’t seen anything definitive about that says either yeah, alcohol raises testosterone levels or that momentarily higher testosterone makes women horny.

    I think it’s a lot more (lots!) likely that alcohol lowers SIS. Which, to the extent it’s higher in women, might amount to the same thing as raising SES.

    Anyway, up to a point there definitely was a correlation between alcohol consumed and hooking up, with a sharp drop off towards then end when too much was consumed. If I’d been statistically minded back then I’d have charted it.

    Now the thing is that that was all about straight people (to the extent gay, lesbian, and bi patrons hooked up they were pretty closeted about it and definitely didn’t do it openly.) But you asked specifically about drunken lesbian hookups.

    And I’m going to go waaay out on a limb (again based on my considerable experience with sexually active hippies and feminists in the 1970s) and say that at the ages you’re working, and I worked and socialized with, a lot of people still haven’t fully worked out their sexual identities. As a result I suspect you see a fair number of LGBT people using alcohol to boost themselves over the “hump” of trying on being straight, and similarly a reasonable number of straight people using alcohol to facilitate working out their attractions for members of the same sex. And, even more obviously, you see straight people using it to facilitate being straight, and LGBT with LGBT partners. Point being that when you think “everbody’s doing it” and it’s happening at a point where you’re still pretty susceptible to wanting to “fit in” then you may feel a little self-induced pressure to be “doing it” too (even though I’m pretty sure half of all college students are still virgins at the end of their sophomore year.) Anyway, add all that up and throw in the much-noted Lesbian Until Graduation phenomenon and… I’m wondering if the combination might contribute to a higher-than-expected amount of alcohol being used to facilitate “drunken lesbian hookups.”

    Citing one last example, among my circle of friends in the 1970s there was a pretty big equation of feminism with the politics of lesbianism and separatism with the result that a lot of my friends would talk earnestly (and sometimes endlessly) about “finally coming out.” And in my limited experience the women who were actually bisexual or lesbian hooked up pretty effortlessly with other women who felt the same way, while a lot of the women who were straight but felt they “should” be gay often used drugs or alcohol while making their attempts. Oh, and it wasn’t just women, a number of male friends who were also influenced by David Bowie’s style of bisexual chic would also use alcohol to try hooking up with each other or with bisexual or gay men. Whereas, again, the more confidently gay or bisexual men just hooked up.

    So. Somewhere in all that I’m wondering if the main thing alcohol with regard to hooking up is doing for college age people is lowering SIS to a point where they feel comfortable being sexual in the first place, being sexual in a way they think they’re supposed to be, being sexual in a way they think they might prefer to be, and so on. All that on top of just the regular sort of mood-altering that goes on with alcohol and drugs when you’re that age anyway.

    Ok, let me try to simplify that last paragraph even more. I’m wondering whether people who are “lesbians until graduation,” or their male counterparts, are more likely to do drunken hookups than people who remain LGBT “after graduation.” Same, for that matter, for people who use alcohol to convince themselves they’re straight until later when they finally come out.

    And oh dear I hope any of that makes sense.


    • I’ll have to think about the “trying on” sexual orientation part, but I can tell you about the sexual desire aspect of alcohol: it’s not that it increases SES – alcohol is a CNS depressant; it doesn’t increase ANYTHING in the brain, it only turns things down – it DECREASES SIS. It’s disinhibiting. You know, like, it lowers your inhibitions. All that noise in your prefrontal cortex about what you should and shouldn’t do? That’s the first place alcohol goes, and it just turns down the volume on all that.

      However, that maxes out around 2-3 drinks. But these students I’m thinking about are getting SHITFACED, way drunker than they need to be to get the full disinhibiting benefit. Indeed, they’re getting so wasted they’re actually turning down their SES. This is the part that puzzles me so deeply: they’re NUMBING themselves. Which sounds like management of negative affect to me, but the students do say that that’s not what’s happening.

      • “…but I can tell you about the sexual desire aspect of alcohol: it’s not that it increases SES – alcohol is a CNS depressant”

        Yup. I was just wondering if it didn’t suppress SIS faster since pharmacologically alcohol affects inhibition and judgment centers very efficiently and very early.

        As for sexual orientation I didn’t mean exactly trying on but couldn’t think of a better way to put it. It’s not so much that one doesn’t have a pretty good idea but one is still subject to external influences and or possibly just opportunities to confirm or refute what you think you “should” be feeling.


      • late to the party here but, i think some of the reason for getting shitfaced is young people not knowing how to moderate their intake. i didn’t go to college and do that scene, but i know that as a 18-24 year old, i routinely got a lot drunker than i wanted to, because i didn’t know how to drink to a buzz and then hold it, i just kept drinking and ended up shitfaced. of course, that never ended up in sex because by that point of drinking i’m extremely nauseated, and i never did the hookup thing because i married young…but it does take a while to learn how to handle liquor.

  23. figleaf, this sounds plausible – and so, so sad. I hate being viewed as the one with the untrendy orientation (not to the extent to force myself to hook up with women to erase the stigma, but still), and I can’t even really talk about the shittiness of it 99% of the time, because outside these circles still I am the heavily priviledged one, so I shouldn’t be ever complaining.

    Even if I happened to be a closeted lesbian, I still would want people to respect my official statement on the matter, and to leave me alone instead of pressuring.

    political lesbianism? I prefer the kind of politics that doesn’t force me to do sex that I don’t want, thanks.

  24. Jacob Hugart

    I attended college in one form or another from 1986 to 1994. This was at the University of Iowa; the dorm I first stayed in, Burge, had been noted in a Playboy article (from some unknown time before) as one of the top party dorms in the US.

    This was not a factor in my choice. My dad would drink to get drunk; that never appealed to me. Even as kids, we’d have watered-down wine with dinner, and my parents would host wine tastings. I learned that small amounts of alcohol were an enhancement to food, allowed you to taste different things. I also learned that large amounts of alcohol tended to make you an unreasonable spectacle, at best.

    So my approach to college life was different from the mainstream. This was at the time when states were raising drinking ages, so a number of teens grandfathered in. I’d overhear conversations about getting drunk, or having hangovers. But it wasn’t something that appealed to me.

    Intoxication was certainly part of the college experience. I had a roommate who got drunk and vomitted (fortunately, our room had a sink) after his girlfriend broke up with him. I once directed a play in which an actress showed up to rehearsal with unusual energy and presence; she had been drinking at a football game earlier.

    The idea that intoxication has to be the normal mode of interactions among young adults is unfortunate. Why it is, I don’t know. Did they see their parents acting a certain way? Are they seeking the be less inhibited? Are they trying to forget something? Are they afraid of saying no?

    But I wouldn’t suspect that homosexual liaisons rely on intoxication as a means of suppressing unhappy feelings.

  25. @Jacob: Why do you consider the idea that intoxication among young adults is unfortunate? I’m genuinely curious. I’ve seen my share of folks with various drug and alcohol dependancies in and out of relationships up close and personal, and while alcohol can play some dramatic and even tragic roles as these stories play out, it’s by no means a universal — nor are the results of alcohol-enabled relationships universally bad.

    I didn’t do the drunken college thing either, although I drank plenty in college. My folks taught us in high school how to handle our buzz, and the mystique that liquor and beer held for most of my peers simply wasn’t there. But I’ve seen perfectly sober people make perfectly awful relationship and sexual decisions, and I’ve seen perfectly drunk people discover their soulmates and live happily ever after. I don’t think that there’s necessarily a correlation between the quality of relationship/experience and the amount/frequency of alcohol. I think it’s a factor — for some people — and a really big factor for a few . . . but unfortunate? I’m curious why you think so.

  26. A question on an earlier comment made by Emily. What id both parties are drunk? does that mean that they raped/sexually assaulted each other? I am confused about that part. I understand the if one is sober and the other isn’t part though.

    • I have the same question as Allie. I’ve even been in this sort of situation (neither party capable of giving consent) without alcohol involved — in college I had a phase where I’d initiate sex with my boyfriend in my sleep and wake up halfway through. One night he asked me “wait… were you awake at the beginning of that?” and it turned out we had BOTH been asleep during initiation. According to my common sense, it doesn’t feel right to say that both of us were guilty of assault that night.

      We talked about it, of course. The sense we had was that our bodies simply did what our bodies were used to, without involving our minds too much in the process until late in the game.

      • The law is there to protect people, so that when sexual predators target individuals deliberately because they’re drunk or else deliberately get targets drunk in order to assault them, they’re unambiguously breaking the law.

  27. Hi, as a bisexual woman I’ve had sex with men and women and been drinking to different degrees with both men and women. I’ve had sober sex with a long-term girlfriend, drunken sex with numerous guys and girls. I just wanted to say, a male fuck-buddy who I was sleeping with on and off for nearly 3 years once told me that he had never had sex sober (in thinking on this further just now, I realise that we had sex in his car after he’d been driving, so clearly those were the exceptions). But yeah – it almost seemed like a prerequisite for him to be sexually intimate that he had to be buzzed. I thought it was really weird at the time, but didn’t know how to broach it as clearly it was the way his experience had been. “Hey buddy, do you think that maybe… most people don’t need to have a drink to have sex?” (And also maybe just a teeny bit of “what does it say about me, that you need to be drunk to fuck me?”ness… Just a touch, you understand.)
    Also – I have a good female friend who has been with both men and women and seemed to go in for women more when she was drunk. She would also only ever bring men home, but fuck girls at clubs and in bathrooms etc. I don’t know if there was some internalised shame happening there, or what – I didn’t quiz her too much about it, either.
    But yeah, speaking as someone who has trouble classifying their sexuality into binaries, I would say that alcohol definitely has a “loosening” effect some of the time (shocking news!) and maybe it makes it easier for people who aren’t 100% sure of their sexuality to go with the flow a little better. I don’t have any real evidence or even strong anecdotes for that, though.
    Good luck with your query :)

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